Virgin Orbit, Richard Branson’s responsive space company, announced today that its UK subsidiary, Virgin Orbit UK Ltd., has signed a new manufacturing agreement with Harwell Campus company AVS Added Value Solutions UK (AVS) to build the Transportable Ground Operating System (TGOS) that will support Virgin Orbit’s launch activities from Spaceport Cornwall. This manufacturing work, which will begin shortly in AVS’ facilities in the UK, represents a major step forward in the journey to bring space launch to Britain.
Virgin Orbit’s unique air-launch system launches satellites to space from a rocket carried beneath the wing of a modified 747 aircraft, giving the system unparalleled flexibility and mobility. To conduct launches, the company requires only a runway, a launch license, and a set of ground support equipment (GSE) such as the one AVS is now building, which are designed to prepare the rocket for flight and to mount it on the wing of the aircraft.
AVS was selected from a large pool of Tier 1 UK suppliers who responded to an open Request for Proposals. The AVS bid emerged as the top pick due to their proven expertise in complex and critical space and scientific equipment (including large space GSE and propulsion), product and quality assurance proposal, and the experience of their EN9100 and ISO9001 list of UK proposed suppliers. Manufacturing and acceptance testing of the new equipment will be completed prior to Virgin Orbit’s first launch from Spaceport Cornwall.
No satellite has ever been launched to space from the Islands of the North Atlantic, despite a thriving satellite manufacturing and operations industry in the region. Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall are working to change that, supported by the UK Space Agency and Cornwall Council. Having recently completed a successful orbital launch of NASA satellites, the Virgin Orbit team is eager to bring its proven system to Cornwall, leveraging LauncherOne’s unique mobility and flexibility to uplift the thriving small satellite community in the UK and beyond.
“We’re fortunate to have an excellent local partner in AVS helping us to bring launch to the UK. This is an exciting step forward for everyone — from the UK government to local businesses to scientific researchers — who can all benefit from a domestic path to orbit. We’re looking forward to the day when the British people have the opportunity to see the economic, educational, and security benefits of space firsthand,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.
“We are delighted to have been entrusted by Virgin Orbit with the manufacturing, testing and delivery of TGOS. This project represents one of the key UK ambitions in the space market: the launch of small satellites from UK spaceports. And we are thrilled to help achieve this key milestone for the success of the UK space industry as a whole. We are sure that this is only the beginning of a long-standing relationship with Virgin Orbit, hopefully not only as a supplier, but as a customer as well,” said Alberto Garbayo, AVS UK CEO.
UK Space Agency Deputy Chief Executive Ian Annett said: “The UK Government is planning for the UK to be at the forefront of small satellite launch in a globally competitive market, and our ambition is for the first UK launches to take place from 2022. This manufacturing agreement between Virgin Orbit and AVS will support launch activities from Spaceport Cornwall and act as a catalyst for growth in the wider space industry, helping to create highly skilled jobs and bringing economic benefits across the UK.”
Head of Spaceport Cornwall Melissa Thorpe said: “By selecting a UK supplier, this agreement showcases how the global commercial space industry is building local capabilities and creating jobs. The benefits of Virgin Orbit’s launch technology will spread around the country, culminating in 150 new jobs in Cornwall and inspiring a generation. The first launch from Spaceport Cornwall will be an incredible example of companies working together to launch the UK into space.”